Highlights from the Fall 2014 Social Impact Tour in Nepal

Cool photosBy: Narayan Adhikari, South Asia Representative

This September, Accountability Lab hosted its first Social Impact Tour here in Kathmandu. A group of international participants from Turkey, Chile, and the US spent an exciting and informative week meeting with Accountability Lab’s “Accountapreneurs” and other partners and friends who are working to build a more accountable society. The tour participants not only raised several thousand dollars to help fund important social initiatives in Nepal, but were also able to offer ideas and insights based on their combined expertise in business, law, and education. In turn, they also learned a great deal about grassroots social change throughout the course of the week, and were impressed with the initiative, creativity, and resourcefulness of the Lab’s various partners.

The week kicked off on Monday morning with breakfast with Sujeev Shakya, a leader in Nepal’s business community and author of Unleashing Nepal. Shakya, who is often called Nepal’s “Chief Eternal Optimist” because of his positive outlook on Nepal’s future, gave the participants an overview of Nepal’s current economic and political climate, emphasizing the importance of building a vibrant private sector in order to drive and change and hold government and civil society accountable.

IMG_0315The tour then introduced the group to several of the Lab’s accountapreneurs who focus on building civic awareness through education and art. At a meeting with Sambhawana, tour participants heard inspiring stories from volunteers and from students who’ve been involved in the Civic Schools program, which equips young people with civic knowledge and skills to solve challenges to democracy. Throughout the course of 16 weeks, Civic Schools volunteers conducted classes in 2 private and 2 public secondary schools schools, using a non-formal curriculum designed to give students a practical understanding of how democracy works and to develop their sense of civic responsibility. “People don’t automatically learn how to be good citizens,” said Anita Thapa, director of the program. “You have to teach them.” At Onion Films and Shilpee Theater, accountapreneurs equip young people with the technical and expressive skills needed to address social problems through the artistic avenues of film and live performance. The impressive range of social issues that have been addressed through these creative projects include various forms of gender-based discrimination, the difficulties of obtaining government documents such as passports and citizenship cards, and integration of former Maoist combatants into society.

In contemporary Nepali society, conversations about accountability must often begin with an attempt to define accountability itself and to demonstrate its relevance. Well-known TV personality Santosh Shah decided to address this issue by producing a show called “Integrity Idol,” designed to recognize honest and hardworking government officials. Nomination forms were distributed at government offices, colleges, and community groups, and later collected by a dedicated group of student volunteers. The TV program documenting the results is airing this week on public TV. In a civic climate where it’s easy to complain about the lack of responsible government leadership, Integrity Idol will promote positive examples of true civil service.

DSC_0165The group then visited two organizations which help increase citizen access to information which should be publicly available: GalliGalli and the Citizens’ Campaign for the Right to Information (CCRI). GalliGalli has created an interactive wiki called Nalibeli, which provides information to help users navigate the often confusing and frustrating process of obtaining public services. CCRI conducts trainings and several other creative tools to educate people about the Right to Information Act, passed in 2007, and to support them in demanding transparency from public bodies.

Traveling around Kathmandu by bus, tour participants were immersed in a crash course in contemporary Nepali social problems. For instance, seeing the long lines every day outside of the Nepali passport office sparked a conversation about labor migration and the over-centralization of government services. The poor road conditions and persistent pollution problems that plague the capital city are emblematic of the enormous challenges of governance that Nepal currently faces. In the face of such serious obstacles, the tour participants were struck by the accountapreneurs’ dedication to the cause of creating a better, more inclusive, more accountable society. “I’ve seen so much enthusiasm and energy this week,” remarked Andrea Albornoz of Chile in a discussion hosted by the Nepal Economic Forum. “And I’ve seen a lot of women in the driver’s seat, which is encouraging.” Through a commitment to accountability, the Lab’s accountapreneurs are rebuilding their society and redefining what it means to be citizens.

DSC_0403_1We would love for you to join us on our next Social Impact Tour next spring! To learn more, visit our website.

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Making power-holders accountable in the developing world

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